Recently there has been significant chatter on Twitter and other social media about the violence taking place in Chicago and what our community should be doing about it. Most of us want to take action, but don't seem to have a firm grasp on what the solution might be. There is no shortage of potential solutions that can have an impact on violence, but there is a glaring issue in the streets of urban America that I have not heard discussed by many, if by any.
Where is the positive army of men committed to defending civilians in urban communities?
I think back to a time when more men were in family homes than now. Fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and brothers prepared to defend the women and children in their homes, in their families and even on their blocks, and this was an organized and cultural value that existed for generations until recently (the last 10 years). From the men that stood watch over families from Reconstruction to the ‘50s, to the Nation of Islam of Elijah Muhammad and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense of the '60s, to the Guardian Angels of the ‘70s, and the Nation of Islam under the leadership of Minister Farrakhan that led us into the Million Man March of 1995. There has consistently been a group of Black men committed, recognizable, TRAINED, and willing to stand in the gap. It did not mean that there was never crime, gangs, police brutality, gangstas, or violence.
What it did mean was that there was a group of men that those forces had to answer to, negotiate with, and in the worst cases battle with. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense fed children, provided clinics for the poor and insured that many a brutal police department was not able to operate without opposition. Guardian Angels in many cities made people safer, as criminals knew they could not run rough shot over citizens when the red jackets were on the block. And the Nation of Islam, under both Elijah Muhammad and Minister Farrakhan's leadership, prepared a literal army of men in the Fruit of Islam to be a presence. They negotiated with gangs and drug dealers, creating safe zones and providing protection in certain housing projects. None of these organizations or their engagement was perfect, but it was real and made an impact.
Who is even willing to stand on the corner now besides the corner boys?
I don't believe that the men who partnered with sisters, created infrastructure, led movements, raised children, and protected wives, sacrificed all they did for us to give our communities away.
Please don't get me wrong. There ARE strong men in our communities. Teachers, professionals, preachers, even police officers that are in the streets, unafraid to love and engage those in our community that others won’t even talk to. They mentor, teach, train, and sometimes just talk to our children and the adults who often lead them without a budget, title, organization, praise, or press. I salute all of them. Like those men working with the O.K. Program, where police officers don't just want to lock up our boys, but rather fight for them. Or Like CJ Blair, a preacher in D.C., going places many won’t even pray for to show people that they can leave those streets just as he did. Or like Basheer Jones in Cleveland, making his way into the schools and staying on the block to talk to Cleveland's youth when many others won’t. And there are countless others in your city and mine. But, there are not enough and we are not organized or trained.
The late Manning Marable, scholar and founder of the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University, used to proclaim that much of the leadership that the Black community was "supposed" to have were the very men who were locked up. Brothers who were lost to the drug trade, gangs, and crime instead of plugged into the church, the NAACP, or other institutions of higher education. Lack of fathers in the home, poor education, and poor decisions served as an onramp to a road for them to operate against the community instead of serving it.
Marable's argument is indirectly supported when you look at the numbers of Black men in jail vs. college. In 2010 reports showed that 1,236,443 African American men were enrolled in college, versus the 841,000 serving time. These numbers illustrate that there are enough men available to provide front line leadership in local communities, but we are lacking the communal will to develop men with the heart; the institutions to provide the skills; and the mandate to say we have no other options but to do so. This is not some patriarchal recommendation excluding sisters from the discussion. But we have mothers and grandmothers on a front line and the men must stand with them. This model can provide a cultural renaissance that illustrates to our community and the world the commitment Black men have to defending their families and their people.
We need a